As part of an ongoing project, Erika Zambello is visiting all National Estuarine Research Reserves in the continental United States. Established by NOAA, the sites work together toward long-term research, education and coastal stewardship.
Founded in 1999, the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) covers over 18,000 acres along the coast of Mississippi. In addition to the estuary itself, the reserve also includes rare pine savannah habitat.
Grand Bay NERR is in the center of one such pine savannah, a historic forest that once covered much of the Mississippi coast. As I turned onto the road leading to the reserve, I slowed down to barely 10 mph, marveling.
In the southern United States, there are two wildflower seasons: spring and fall. During my October visit, the grasslands were positively popping with color. Sunflowers were the most abundant, covering the savannah like thousands of tiny suns. Overhead, tall loblolly pines and the occasional longleaf pine dotted the wetland meadow, wide expanses of space stretching between the trunks.
Read the rest on Nat Geo!